April is here. Autism Awareness month. Today, April 2nd, is World Autism Awareness Day along with a Light It Up Blue initiative.
2016 marks the eighth year of the celebration, which was originally passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007 to improve human rights and to also generate overall awareness of autism in society.
But what does Awareness mean? What are dedicated awareness days looking to achieve?
Sure, I can wear a blue shirt on April 2nd and turn my Facebook profile blue. I have a blue porch light that will be casting blue for the entire month. But is this really helping the autism community?
An article posted by the Atlantic last year, What Good is Raising Awareness?, raised a valid point stating that days are dedicated to “awareness” yet there is not a definition of what is to come out of it. “So evidence really is lacking on what good these awareness days do.”
So what is next-level awareness? Take action. Start a conversation. Pay your knowledge forward. Educate others who may be misinformed or unconscious of autism and those living with the spectrum disorder.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral in the summer of 2014 was genius, which raised over 100 million in donations. That is action.
For parents with young children, knowing the early signs of autism can help with a diagnosis with access to early intervention. Acceptance is also a major goal that autism awareness continues to strive for, and I know this proves to be a challenge for all types of people who don’t fit the cookie cutter, typical profile. Children that do not have disabilities still encounter bullying in school. If you are a parent, talk to your child about diversity (What to teach Child) and erase the stigma associated with special needs. Answer and encourage any questions your child may have. By teaching your child to be open-minded and accepting, you will be building the foundation of a child with a caring and understanding soul.
Awareness should also be raised to current policy and problems that the autism community encounters, and how society can make a difference.
- Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. Many on the autism spectrum find themselves unemployed or without services, with 1/3 not working in their early 20’s. Walgreens and Microsoft, among a few others, have taken a progressive effort into hiring people on the autism spectrum.
- When ASD students turn 18, the next steps out of post secondary school are uncertain. Disability funding and support lists are flooded, and opportunities to colleges are limited.
- Government funding to assist families with children who have developmental disorders is limited. Autism waiver lists have waits of over 15+ years.
- Academic funding for special education. Budgets and resources are limited. Classrooms do not have the support systems in place to sustain the preferred inclusion model.
- Lack of children and adult residential treatment options for those who are more severely impacted.
- Health insurance. Many states are still fighting to get basic therapies approved that have been proven to assist with intervention. (ABA!)
- ABLE law, which establishes tax-free accounts that enable individuals with disabilities to invest with financial institutions without losing their government benefits, is still in limbo of being passed in many states. This has been passed by 38 states.
These are just a few, but the message is that creating a support system for children and adults on the autism spectrum has a challenging path of progress ahead.
In the meantime, generate awareness through your actions. Read a book about special needs with you child (or watch http://www.mackandmoxy.com/ or introduce them to Julia from Sesame Street) and start a dialogue. Donate or volunteer with a foundation that you support (http://www.pathfindersforautism.org/ is a great one). Hire someone with autism. Reach out a parent of a child with special needs who may be feeling isolated. Participate in local fundraising events. Vote for political officials who support the rights of those with special needs. Be a role model—if you see someone acting differently (flapping their hands or spinning), smile rather than shun. Acceptance rather than tolerance. By teaching your children to respect differences, they can overcome their initial fear and accept that they may have a lot in common with their peer.
Erase the concept of normal when it comes to human nature. I have yet to meet anyone who may appear normal, and if that may be the theory—it could be a misconception for just plain boring. The complexity of the human mind and personalities is what makes individuality so unique and precious.